On February 21, 1804, the world saw the journey of the first steam-powered locomotive, which transported iron from Merthyr Tydfil to Abercynon in South Wales, UK. After over two centuries, we now enjoy significant changes in railway transportations. Thanks to technology, traveling has become faster and safer a hundredfold. What’s remarkable is that more and more modern technologies and projects are being laid out to vastly improve our railway travel experience. Here’s a glimmer of the railway industry innovations that could change the way we travel on the rails if widely adopted.
1) 3D Laser Scanners
3D Scanning is now used across multiple industries, from dentistry, archeology, engineering, topography, architecture, automotive, and civil surveying. The rail industry is not an exception. Measurement of tracks, planning of routes, and surveying construction sites become faster and more accurate with three-dimensional scanning. In addition, 3D Laser Scanners also offer more detailed data, decreasing the time needed to be on the actual track, making the process more efficient and safer.
2) Active Steering Systems
Conventional wheelsets result in various problems like wheel damage, dust and noise generation, and rail wear due to the lack of steering performance, more specifically on curved routes. Such issues are attributable to the high stiffness suspensions employed by the traditional system. Now, researchers are working on active steering mechanisms that will properly adjust the wheelsets on straight or curved sections. Steering performance will become more straightforward, turning with lesser efforts on sharp curves found on many urban railroads. Thus, providing agility, precision, and comfort as the train travels.
3) Smart Train Windows
Soon, train passengers may no longer need to reach their phones from their pockets or bags to search for information while riding a train. Plans are set to create smart train windows that will undoubtedly change the railway travel experience. These windows will include a data display that will allow passengers to access travel information, such as the time and date, temperature, train speed, remaining distance, service availability, and other promotional and educational content.
4) Mechatronic Switches
Points or switch failures cause about 20% of the train delays and accounts for more than 60,000 hours lost. It happens when the mechanism fails, preventing the trains from shifting from one track to another. Researchers are now working on employing mechatronic switches, which feature three independent motors capable of lifting, moving the rails, and changing the direction of the oncoming locomotive. Should one of the motors fail, the remaining motors can still move the track. This innovation can be a milestone, as it will replace conventional railway switch technology, which has remained unchanged for over two centuries.
5) Driverless Trains
Different countries are starting to automate their trains, with a few even running them driverless. Relying on artificial intelligence, advanced sensor technologies, real-time information transmission, the wide use of driverless trains on railways may soon hit the industry. It can aid in improving reliability, punctuality, and obstacle-detection capacity while reducing delays and technical errors. Thus, also helping passengers gain more confidence and satisfaction in railway transportation.
Technology is ceaseless in shattering limitations and drawbacks in railway designs, providing a more seamless, more secure, and more positive railway travel to everyone. Will we see the vacuum train tube traveling at nearly 800 mph turn into a reality? Only time can tell what the next-generation rail system will be, but one thing is certain: the rail industry’s future is promising.